Today, I found myself wishing that I was the age of 12. That was an age when I was still young enough to dream of building a spaceship and going to the moon, yet old enough to not to have to have a summer job, or any job at that point.
My mom and dad took care of me. They made sure that I had food on the table, clothes on my back and a roof over my head. All I had to do was to go to school and do my chores. The world was my oyster, or at least a clam. The future held every possible hope for anything that I wanted to be. Sure we had the Cuban missile crisis and civil defense drills which were scary, but I didn’t focus on these things. I wasn’t old enough to be drafted into the Vietnam war but saw the headlines which were very confusing to a 12 year old. I just focused on my latest science experiment and discovering the wonders of God’s universe.
There were piano lessons, but I enjoyed them. All I had to do was practice, which was easier some times than others. Life just wasn’t that hard up to that point. Walt Disney was still coming into our homes via the TV each Sunday night. Gilligan’s Island kept us rolling on the floor laughing. Life was easy and good. Life also appeared good, even though there was evil in the world, I was living during a new industrial revolution where anything was possible. They were talking about landing a man on the moon. All America watched as NASA developed the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space programs. The inventions that were created to get man on the moon filtered to the commercial market. It seemed that new inventions were popping up daily, amazing all of us.
My life was filled with my chemistry set, microscope, ham radio and model rockets. I was discovering a world of science. We had a small pond in our backyard that held all kinds of microbes that came alive under my Tasco microscope.
I started experiments to discover the true validity of Listerine. Did it actually kill germs? In my petri dish, with just a couple of tablespoons of Listerine, in open air, it actually started to grow mold. I guess it doesn’t really kill germs like they claim. My chemistry set had a bunch of experiments on little index cards. I always looked for the ones that would blow up or smell awful!
My short wave radio was an amazing thing that at night, the air waves came alive due to the atmosphere being more crisp. The radio waves would bounce off the ionosphere from a far off country. I would hear music and voices in other languages that brought the world a little closer. Building the short wave radio, then putting up a copper wire antenna to catch the radio waves was as much fun as using the radio.
Model rocketry was popular back during the formative years of the space program. I flew almost every model rocket that came out. I wanted bigger and better, often modifying the design so that instead of just one engine, I would use three at the same time to launch bigger rockets. A good percentage of my rockets ended up floating by parachute into the many trees that were in our neighborhood. This didn’t deter me, I just saved up enough money to go and buy another rocket kit to build. After awhile I got tired of launching them vertically and decided to launch them horizontally at the side of the neighbors brick house. This wasn’t as exciting because the parachute never opened and it was over too quick. The cardboard and balsa rocket ended up in a thousand pieces. Back to launching them vertically.
The next couple of years life started getting more complicated. I discovered a species that I wasn’t aware of; they call them ‘girls’. I really hadn’t noticed them too much before, even though I did have a one week crush on one or more during grade school, but I really couldn’t be bothered. At age 13, something strange started to happen to my voice. It had it’s moments when it just had a mind of it’s own, changing pitch for no apparent reason. Then at age 14, my face decided that it wasn’t happy with it’s smooth appearance, it needed to add these little mountains of acne that would cause me to skip school from time to time, embarrassed about my latest zit the size of Mt. Everest. Let’s not forget the good old hormones. Talk about your body having a mind of it’s own. Why would a simple ride to school in the school bus cause the zipper area of your jeans to suddenly shrink? This made getting out of the school bus an awkward endeavor, one where your school
books could cover the awkwardness that was going on in your jeans without your approval.
At age 15, some alien life form, tripled the female population in my world. I was sure that at age 12 there were a lot less of these creatures. Everywhere I turned, these giggling, over matured girls were now a focus, messing up my whole science discovering world. At age 15, these girls looked like they just got an extra dose of growth hormones, leaving us poor boys to wallow in our crackly voices and under developed biceps. 16 was on the horizon with the ever promising drivers license waiting. What the heck was I going to do with a car and a drivers license? I had plenty of ideas, but these ideas seemed to steal more and more of my interests in science. They were competing, even winning over what had brought me delight over these few short years. I was more interested in my ability to impress girls than stay true to what had brought me joy over the past 5 years. It was as if this caveman inside of me was ready to pick up his club, ‘me find woman’, knock her on the noggin’ and drag her back to my cave. I wouldn’t have known what to do with my prize should I had been successful in clubbing one and draggin’ her home.
Age 16 was when life really started getting complicated. I saved up enough money for an old car. Now I needed gas for the car. That meant a job. After school, on Saturdays I worked for gas money and repairs. By then, ‘me find girl’ was my main goal as well as having enough money to buy pizza. I needed more money which meant more hours after school and working on Saturdays. Guess what happened to my chemistry set, ham radio, rockets and microscope? They were put in a box and shoved in the attic. Now my new projects were working on my car, not making it a hot rod, just fixing whatever decided to break that week. When you are 16, you buy the first piece of junk that you can find, then if you are mechanical, you just keep fixing it. I had dreams of creating a hot rod, but when you only
earn $2.50/hr, it does not afford you any cool parts.
Since my parents put me in the first grade at the age of 5, I was a senior in high school when I was 16. This meant that I had a bunch of important decisions to make that my emotions were not ready to make. I was a year and a half younger than most boys in my class and this meant that I was smaller and less mature, not making it any more easier to be self confident in my decision making. College was looming and my grades suffered. I was just a big emotional mess. I wasn’t ready to go to college. I really wasn’t ready for the whole girl thing. I just wanted to go back to watching Walt talk about creating Epcot and dreaming of man landing on the moon, of which by now had happened 4 years earlier. Instead of applying to go to a school in engineering, somehow I got this stupid idea of
majoring in theater. What the heck was I thinking?! Theater? I had been in a little theater production of ‘You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown’. I had played Linus. I did an OK job, but I wasn’t a mousekateer, that was for sure. One play and I was bound for Hollywood? Where the heck was that microscope anyway?
My grades were pretty abysmal, so I ended up going to community college for two years before transferring to Old Dominion University. What did I major in? Piano and Music Therapy. What was I thinking? Sure I was a natural at playing the piano, but having a career in music is a hard life. Having a career as an engineer is a good living, good people to work with and decent hours. Those hormones that I had started to experience at 13, 14 and 15 were ruling and ruining my life. It seemed unfair that God puts these hormones in our innocent bodies. Why can’t they just show up around say age 22, when we are done with college?
After four years of college my parents said, “That’s enough. We paid for four years of college. You have no degree, so the rest is up to you or you can get a job.” I remember that day. It’s like this cloud that I was living in just vanished. The fog lifted and reality was like a 16 wheeler heading straight for me. The realization that it was now all me, hit me like a ton of bricks. Mom and dad were not going to pay for me any longer. The roof over my head, even though it was in great shape now seemed to be leaking over my bed. My parents talked about me living at home long enough to save up money for an apartment, but not forever. An apartment? I hadn’t even thought of living away from home, but that idea took hold of me. Soon, I was looking for a job, any job that would provide me with a real living, not just being a cook or selling radios at Radio Shack. I found a job as a salesman at a local Christian radio station which now afforded me the ability to get an apartment. Before long, I was telling my parents that I had found an apartment and would be moving out in 2 weeks. They tried to tell me that I should try and save up more money, but the thought had been planted within my head and I was bound to be on my own. Where the heck was my microscope? Where was Walt when I needed him? Walt had passed away 8 years ago and I was still trying to get used to the idea of it. I sure did miss him coming on our black and white tv on Sundays. Life was moving too fast. I wasn’t ready for all of this, but my emotions seemed to be pushing me to independence. I found a small one bedroom apartment 7 miles from my parents house. I signed a one years lease. I went to the local thrift store for furniture. I made a dining room table from a big spool and a bed frame from plywood and cork. There was not one matching piece of furniture in my place, but it was my place.
Living on my own was fun at first, the first week, but then having to cook for myself, wash my laundry, work during the day left me little time to dream and consider the questions of the universe. I now had a steady girlfriend and that was stress enough. Eventually I proposed to her and for some stupid reason she said yes which she would later regret. More unnecessary drama in my life. My boss at the time owned a very small home in Portsmouth. He was being transferred and said that I should consider buying his house. The mortgage payment would be the same as my rent payment. There was a first time home buyers loan that allowed me to buy a home with only $500 down. So now, I was a homeowner. My parents only lived 20 minutes away, but going back there to live may as well had been 20 hours away. My simple life with hot food on the table was now a distant memory. I was a homeowner with a yard to mow, my yard, no dad to yell at me to
mow it and rooms to paint. When things broke down, I couldn’t expect my parents to take care of it or even the apartment landlord to fix it. It was all me.
In the work area, going from one sales job to another, I realized that I was getting into a resume slump. I had to get out of sales. I guess I looked good in a suit and people just assumed I could sell. After being told no thousands of times you learn what to say so that people will say yes. Since I was paying for the roof over my head I had to learn how to make a sale and got pretty good at it even though I hated it. I needed to jump ship quickly for happiness, so I quit my sales job and turned to the sciences. I worked for a coal testing lab and really enjoyed the work, but the pay was abysmal. I had to eat potted meat sandwiches and heat my home with wood just to survive. I lasted a whole year with the science job before I got back into sales where I could afford to live. All of this time, I never told my parents how poor that I was. I froze that winter as heating a house with wood is really a chore. My tiny wood stove was so small that it would go out around 3AM. I had to set my alarm to wake up and put more wood in it. There were some good things about being on my own. I did learn to sew and mend my own clothes, so it wasn’t all a waste. I did all of my own home repairs because I couldn’t afford to call anyone. I learned a lot. Sometime during all of this, my first wife woke up one morning and decided that she really didn’t like being married and left, never to hear from her again. Eventually I ended up getting two room mates to help with the mortgage since she took her income with her when she left. Where was my damn microscope?!
Eventually, I ended up remarrying and had 4 kids. Suddenly what seemed overnight, I was now a father. I wasn’t just me depending upon me, 5 other people were depending on me. It’s amazing how that affects your decisions and makes you grow up. Day in and day out I played the sales role for a career. More sales jobs, more putting on a suit, until one day I just had it. I had to do something else. I just couldn’t stay in sales. Because of all of the home repairs that I learned to do out of necessity, I started a remodeling company and enjoyed that for years, but it was a hard way to make a living. I really missed the engineering type of guys that I had hung around with when I was young so I tried going back to college to get an engineering degree, but having 4 kids and living off of savings proved too stressful. I lasted about 1 1/2 years and loved every minute of it, but calculus was kicking my butt and money was running out. Life wasn’t easy, that’s for sure.
Somehow I had to return to simpler times.
We bought a house in the country because I wanted to create a version of what I had grown up with, for my kids to experience. We had almost 3 acres to have fun on. The kids had go karts, motorbikes, tree houses and zip lines. We launched rockets and almost got killed building our own rocket engines. We enjoyed the big yard and the kids had friends over all the time to enjoy the go-karts, barn, chickens and all the rest. Even though my children were having fun, life was much more complicated for my kids than when I was growing up. Instead of 3 TV stations, there was now cable, computer games and VHS movies. The media was beginning to flood our homes with drama that as a kid the networks would have never been dreamed of putting on TV. Walt was long gone. There were no Disney endings. Parents were losing control of their children. Rebellion was now the norm. Respect was something that only Tina Turner sang in a song. It was hard raising kids. I didn’t have the answers. Life was out of control. ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ was now my favorite movie. I seemed to be able to relate to George Bailey. When was Harry Bailey going to come and rescue me? It was my turn to go to college to become an engineer and let Harry take over the savings and loan business. I felt like a teenager inside, but now I had teenagers of my own. When does one feel old enough and wise enough to raise teenagers? I think never. Soon, my teenagers were facing the very same decision that I had to face what seemed only a few years ago, what college to attend and what to major in. This can’t be happening. It was only a couple of years ago that I was in high school contemplating the same exact thing. Where had the years gone?
Fast forward. Now, I’m 59, but inside I still feel like a kid. I feel like Tom Hanks in the movie ‘Big’. At least once per week I tell someone “When I grow up, I want to…..”. I do say it in jest, but sometimes I feel as if I really mean it. I don’t ever want to stop dreaming. I don’t ever want to stop looking for my microscope. I think I remember where I saw it now, it was under the train set and old petri dishes in the back of the attic. Hopefully my parents didn’t throw it away.